Carnegie Mellon University
November 04, 2010

Graduate Programs in Professional Writing and Rhetoric Turn 30

Graduate Programs in Professional Writing and Rhetoric Turn 30

The M.A. in Professional Writing (MAPW) and M.A./Ph.D. in Rhetoric programs celebrate their 30th anniversaries this Fall. 

These programs exemplify Carnegie Mellon's culture of innovation through cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary collaboration. By drawing on and recruiting faculty from communications, computer science, design, English, linguistics, and cognitive and social psychology, the programs were able to bring Carnegie Mellon's distinctive interdisciplinary problem-solving approach to significant issues in reading and writing processes and document design.

30 Years of Leadership in Rhetoric

The Rhetoric program at CMU focuses on how people create and understand discourse across social, cultural, and material contexts, in schools, workplaces, and communities. As such, the program consistently produces students who contribute to society in rhetorical theory and practice.

According to David Kaufer, director of Rhetoric, "These programs reflect one of the hallmarks of Carnegie Mellon: real world impact. Professional and technical writers working outside the academy need strong programs and faculty within the university to generate knowledge that improves practice. Carnegie Mellon's faculty have been highly visible over the past 30 years in playing this role, and thus supporting our students, long after they graduate." 

30 Years of Producing Professional Writers 

The MAPW program pioneered research in and practice of plain language, creating understandable English for complex legal documents in business and government, initially through Document Design Project, which was funded by the National Institute of Education, a federal research agency. Current students continue that tradition, expanded to fields as diverse as marketing, journalism, and information architecture. Even as the program grows and responds to new technology, the professional writing faculty emphasizes clear writing and design as the core skills. 

MAPW director Karen Schnakenberg explains, "Media evolves so rapidly that we must do more than simply teach current technology. We must provide a way of thinking critically and creatively about communication situations. Thus, we teach our students how to continue learning and adapting when faced with a new medium." 

MA and PhD in Rhetoric and MAPW: By the Numbers

The Rhetoric and MAPW programs combined claim around 500 alumni whose success in fields across the board attests to the strength and interdisciplinary nature of the programs. The 39 current students in the Rhetoric program and 40 in the MAPW program have interests and aspirations just as diverse, promising to further strengthen the alumni base in years to come.

For more information on these and other English graduate programs, visit